GILAS Pilipinas women delivered when it mattered the most, learning their lessons from two straight defeats to turn in a win in the 2023 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup Division A yesterday at the Quaycentre in Sydney.
Licking their wounds from huge defeats against Australia and Japan, the Filipinas poured it on against Chinese Taipei with a 92-81 win, their first since being promoted to Division A in 2015, to end their Group B campaign in style.
Gilas, at 1-2, thereby dodged potential relegation to Division B and advanced to the next round for the first time in the elite tourney, which serves as a qualifier for the Paris Olympics.
The Gilas women had a 33.5-point average losing margin against Chinese Taipei in their past two meetings.
Duke University ace Vanessa de Jesus once again stamped her class with 25 points, two rebounds, four assists and two steals as Gilas finally upended its fierce rival after losing in 2017, 57-83, and 2021, 93-52.
Veterans Jack Animam and Afril Bernardino also turned in stellar performances on both ends of the floor.
The undersized Bernardino turned in a stat line of 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block while Ms. Animam had 16 points on perfect 8-of-8 shooting and 15 rebounds.
“It’s time to (prove) we belong in the FIBA Asia Cup. Hopefully, it’s not the last. We hope to continue winning. This is for our country, for our program and for our federation,” head coach Pat Aquino said.
“It’s special. This is a testament to our program, especially with everybody behind, the sacrifices and the work we put into. It’s the icing on the cake, knowing what this means to Philippine basketball,”Ms. Animam added.
Ms. De Jesus, Ms. Bernardino and Ms. Animam led a 15-2 run in the first half to transform a 15-18 deficit to a 30-20 lead.
At the turn, Gilas held a 51-38 lead and only needed to repel the repeated rallies of Taipei, led by Yu-Ting Lin’s 21 points, from there on heading home.
Gilas, which endured beatings against Australia, 105-34, and Japan, 95-57, is likely to play Group A second seed New Zealand in the qualification to the semis.
The next phase features the second and third-ranked teams in Groups A and B to dispute the last two spots in the Final Four to join the top squads, which will earn automatic seats.
China is a cinch for the No. 1 slot in Group A as reigning champion while Japan and Australia are to slug it out for the Group B leadership in the tourney that will reward the champion an outright berth in the Paris Summer Games, with the next four teams getting invites to the Olympic qualifiers. — John Bryan Ulanday